Posts Tagged Addiction

Alcoholism Affects Men’s and Women’s Brains Differently


Alcoholism Affects Men's and Women's Brains DifferentlyNew research has demonstrated that the effects on white matter brain volume from long-term alcohol abuse are different for men and women.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System also suggest that when they stop drinking, women recover their white matter brain volume more quickly than men.

Previous research has linked alcoholism with white matter reduction, according to the researchers, who explain that white matter forms the connections between neurons, allowing communication between different areas of the brain.

In this latest study, a research team, led by Susan Mosher Ruiz, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research scientist in the Laboratory for Neuropsychology at BUSM and research scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, and Marlene Oscar Berman, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, neurology and anatomy and neurobiology at BUSM and research career scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, employed structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the effects of drinking history and gender on white matter volume.

They examined brain images from 42 abstinent alcoholic men and women who drank heavily for more than five years and 42 nonalcoholic men and women. The researchers found that a greater number of years of alcohol abuse was associated with smaller white matter volumes in the alcoholic men and women. In the men, the decrease was observed in the corpus callosum, while in women this effect was observed in cortical white matter regions.

“We believe that many of the cognitive and emotional deficits observed in people with chronic alcoholism, including memory problems and flat affect, are related to disconnections that result from a loss of white matter,” said Mosher Ruiz.

The researchers also found that the number of daily drinks had a strong impact on alcoholic women, with the volume loss 1.5 to 2 percent for each additional drink. Additionally, there was an 8 to 10 percent increase in the size of the brain ventricles, which are areas filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that play a protective role in the brain. When white matter dies, CSF produced in the ventricles fills the ventricular space.

The researchers also found that in men, white matter brain volume in the corpus callosum recovered at a rate of 1 percent per year for each year of abstinence. For people who abstained less than a year, the researchers found evidence of increased white matter volume and decreased ventricular volume in women, but not in men. However, for people in recovery for more than a year, those signs of recovery disappeared in women and became apparent in men.

“These findings preliminarily suggest that restoration and recovery of the brain’s white matter among alcoholics occurs later in abstinence for men than for women,” said Mosher Ruiz. “We hope that additional research in this area can help lead to improved treatment methods that include educating both alcoholic men and women about the harmful effects of excessive drinking and the potential for recovery with sustained abstinence.”

The research was published online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Source: Boston University Medical Center

Brain scan photo by shutterstock.

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Modeling of new enzymes helps develop therapies for cocaine abuse


ScienceDaily (July 26, 2012) — Researchers from the University of Kentucky have designed and discovered a series of highly efficient enzymes that effectively metabolize cocaine. These high-activity cocaine-metabolizing enzymes could potentially prevent cocaine from producing physiological effects, and could aid in the treatment of drug dependency.

The results of this study by Chang-Guo Zhan et al are published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.

The effectiveness of the enzymes’ work was evaluated through modeling cocaine pharmacokinetics, the study of the body’s action on administered external substances, such as cocaine, when the enzyme exists in the body. As there is no FDA-approved anti-cocaine medication, the medical and social consequences of cocaine abuse have made the development of anti-cocaine medication a high priority.

Administration of an enzyme to enhance cocaine metabolism has been recognized as a promising treatment strategy for overdose and abuse. A remarkable feature of the enzyme-based therapeutic approach is that one enzyme molecule can degrade many thousands of drug molecules per minute.

This pharmacokinetic modelling is a crucial step of enzyme-based therapy development for cocaine abuse. Furthermore, the general insights of the research should also be valuable for future development of an enzyme therapy for any addictive drug, as the general methodology of the modelling may be used to develop valuable models for evaluating the effectiveness of metabolic enzymes in detoxifying other drugs.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Public Library of Science.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Zheng F, Zhan C-G. Modeling of Pharmacokinetics of Cocaine in Human Reveals the Feasibility for Development of Enzyme Therapies for Drugs of Abuse. PLoS Comput Biol, 2012 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002610

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

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Increased Dopamine Can Reduce Impulsivity


Increased Dopamine Can Reduce ImpulsivityResearchers have discovered that elevating the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the frontal lobe of the brain can significantly decrease impulsivity in healthy adults.

The finding is important as impulsiveness is a risk factor for substance abuse.

“Impulsivity is a risk factor for addiction to many substances, and it has been suggested that people with lower dopamine levels in the frontal cortex tend to be more impulsive,” said lead author Andrew Kayser, Ph.D.

Researchers from the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco performed a double-blinded placebo study. The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In the research, 23 adult research participants were given either tolcapone, a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that inhibits a dopamine-degrading enzyme, or a placebo.

Investigators then gave the participants a task that measured impulsivity, asking them to make a hypothetical choice between receiving a smaller amount of money immediately (“smaller sooner”) or a larger amount at a later time (“larger later”).

Each participant was tested twice, once with tolcapone and once with placebo.

More impulse (at baseline) participants were more likely to choose the less impulsive “larger later” option after taking tolcapone than they were after taking the placebo.

Magnetic resonance imaging conducted while the participants were taking the test confirmed that regions of the frontal cortex associated with decision-making were more active in the presence of tolcapone than in the presence of placebo.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to use tolcapone to look for an effect on impulsivity,” said Kayser.

The study is a proof-in-concept investigation and was not designed to investigate the reasons that reduced dopamine is linked with impulsivity.

However, explained Kayser, scientists believe that impulsivity is associated with an imbalance in dopamine between the frontal cortex, which governs executive functions such as cognitive control and self-regulation, and the striatum, which is thought to be involved in the planning and modification of more habitual behaviors.

“Most, if not all, drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and amphetamine, directly or indirectly involve the dopamine system,” said Kayser.

“They tend to increase dopamine in the striatum, which in turn may reward impulsive behavior. In a very simplistic fashion, the striatum is saying ‘go,’ and the frontal cortex is saying ‘stop.’ If you take cocaine, you’re increasing the ‘go’ signal, and the ‘stop’ signal is not adequate to counteract it.”

Kayser and his research team plan a follow-up study of the effects of tolcapone on drinking behavior.

“Once we determine whether drinkers can safely tolerate this medication, we will see if it has any effect on how much they drink while they’re taking it,” said Kayser.

Currently, Tolcapone is approved as a medication for Parkinson’s disease — a disease in which a chronic deficit of dopamine inhibits movement.

Source: University of California – San Francisco

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Behavioral, Cognitive Challenges Define Fetal Alcohol Exposure


Behavioral and Cognitive Challenges Define Fetal Alcohol ExposureNew research suggests the only sign of fetal alcohol exposure may be signs of abnormal intellectual or behavioral development.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have discovered that the facial features classically attributed to fetal alcohol syndrome do not develop in a majority of children.

Rather, nervous system abnormalities in children may manifest as challenged intellect and behavioral development, including language delays, hyperactivity, attention deficits or intellectual delays. Researchers define deficits or abnormalities as functional neurologic impairments.

In the study, authors documented an abnormality in one of these areas in about 44 percent of children whose mothers drank four or more drinks per day during pregnancy.

In contrast, abnormal facial features were present in about 17 percent of alcohol exposed children.

Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to a pattern of birth defects found in children of mothers who consumed alcohol during pregnancy.

These involve a characteristic pattern of facial abnormalities, growth retardation, and brain damage.

Neurological and physical differences seen in children exposed to alcohol prenatally — but who do not have the full pattern of birth defects seen in fetal alcohol syndrome — are classified as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

“Our concern is that in the absence of the distinctive facial features, health care providers evaluating children with any of these functional neurological impairments might miss their history of fetal alcohol exposure,” said Devon Kuehn, M.D.

“As a result, children might not be referred for appropriate treatment and services.”

The study may be found online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The research was conducted as part of a long-term study of heavy drinking in pregnancy known as the NICHD–University of Chile Alcohol in Pregnancy Study.

The investigation began by researchers asking over 9000 women at a community health clinic in Santiago, Chile about their alcohol use during pregnancy.

They found 101 pregnant women, who had four or more drinks per day during their pregnancies and matched them with 101 women having similar characteristics but who consumed no alcohol when they were pregnant.

After these women gave birth, the researchers evaluated the infants’ health and conducted regular assessments of their physical, intellectual and emotional development through age 8.

The researchers documented that children exposed to alcohol presented an increased risk of:

  • Abnormal facial features (16 percent);
  • Delayed growth (14 percent);
  • Cognitive delays (including intellectual) (29 percent);
  • Language delays (18 percent);
  • Hyperactivity (25 percent).

Some of the women with heavy drinking habits also engaged in binge drinking (5 or more drinks at a time). Even though these women already had high levels of alcohol consumption, the researchers found that this habit increased the likelihood of poor outcomes for their children.

Source: NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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Early male friendship as a precursor to substance abuse in girls


Two girls

Two girls (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

The findings show that girls tend to initiate the transition to a mixed-gender friendship network earlier than boys, and continue this transition at a faster pace during adolescence. As a result girls who experienced this transition early and fast were more likely to develop substance abuse problems during late adolescence.

Researchers followed a sample of almost 400 adolescents (58% girls), aged twelve to eighteen, from a large French-speaking school district in Canada. They were interviewed annually over a seven-year period about their friendship network and their use of alcohol and drugs.

Lead author Dr. François Poulin, “Peer relationships are considered to be one of the main risk factors for substance use. However, for boys, the formation of other-sex friendships is not associated with later substance use problems. Boys reported receiving higher levels of emotional support from their other-sex friends, whereas girls receive more support from their same-sex friends. It is possible that having other-sex friends is protective for boys because they gain emotional support and are therefore less likely to engage in problem behavior.”

The study finds that among girls, antisocial behavior and early pubertal maturation accelerated the increase in the proportion of other-sex friends. Compared to their same-sex friends, girls tended to form friendships with older males in out-of-school contexts. Since the legal drinking age is 18 in Canada, it may simply be more difficult for younger girls to purchase their own alcohol, thus older boys become one point of access for this substance. The study findings imply that parents may wish to take a more active role in monitoring their daughters’ friendships, especially with older boys.

The authors maintain that by middle adolescence, once this transition has been completed, the impact of other-sex friendships on girls’ maladjustment fades away. Mixed-gender networks then become more normative and girls are more likely to form romantic relationships with their male peers. The influence of boys on girls’ substance-using behavior might then operate in the context of these romantic relationships.

The authors suggest that future studies should also examine the longitudinal associations between other-sex friends and other outcomes such as educational achievement and antisocial behavior. Finally, aspects of these other-sex friendships in early adolescence should be more carefully investigated, including the setting in which they take place, their linkages with the rest of the youth’s friendship network, and parental supervision of these new emerging relationships

via Early male friendship as a precursor to substance abuse in girls.

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